UK looks to replace high accuracy satnav signals

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A UK team has developed a replacement for safety critical satellite navigation signals to replace a European service.

Since leaving the EU, the UK has not been part of Galileo satnav system and so cannot use European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) safety of life (SOL) services.

A team led by satellite operator Inmarsat (being acquired by Viasat of the US) has begun broadcasting a satellite navigation signal as part of a programme to explore the creation of a sovereign national capability in resilient positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) for the aviation and maritime sectors.

This UK Space-Based Augmentation System (UKSBAS) generates an overlay test signal to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), fully-compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, to enable assessment of more precise, resilient and high integrity navigation for maritime and aviation users in UK waters and airspace. It increases accuracy in positioning to a few centimetres of accuracy rather than the few metres provided by standard GPS. This is a similar system to that already under evaluation in Australia and New Zealand, supported by Inmarsat.

The signal is broadcast in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union Space Programme Agency (EUSPA) and is now stable and operational, enabling on-going testing and validation by industry, regulators, and users.

Inmarsat is working with Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall and GMVNSL in the project funded by the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency’s Navigation Innovation and Support Program (NAVISP).

A transponder on Inmarsat’s I-3 F5 satellite in geostationary orbit at 54° west was reprogrammed to provide the UKSBAS signal across the UK as part of its Atlantic Ocean region service overlay.

These tests will assess whether UKSBAS can develop into a full operational capability to support safety-critical applications such as airport approach and landing operations or navigating ships through narrow channels, especially at night and in poor weather conditions. Goonhilly provides the signal uplink for the system from Cornwall and software from GMVNSL, based in Nottingham, generates the necessary navigational data.

“The Inmarsat team is inspired by delivering solutions to new problems through technology and innovation. Repurposing a transponder on a long-serving satellite to deliver a new capability to the UK, potentially a vital and enduring one, certainly lives up to that core Inmarsat ethos. Working with our fellow British companies at Goonhilly and GMVNSL to deliver such a capability for the country is very rewarding and we look forward to reporting on the results,” said Todd McDonell, President, Global Government at Inmarsat.

The platform is vital for aviation and maritime applications and could be extended into rail and road applications with future provision of PNT integrity services for high-end, regulated users such as driverless cars with an initial, end-to-end infrastructure to support future prototyping of the delivery of high accuracy, encrypted, alerting, and authentication services to next generation applications and user communities.

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